How might our society look to an extraterrestrial? The alien’s report might read something like this: “Earth is populated by a species called the automobile. Every morning, the automobile goes from its resting place to gather with other automobiles and socialize. Every evening, it returns to its resting place. Each automobile has at least one servant, called a human being, whose job it is to take the automobile back and forth to these gatherings, and who is responsible for doing something called work and earning something called money so that it can take care of the automobile.”
This humorous scenario was described by the futurist Edith Weiner, who was the keynote speaker at the first Women in the Know conference, sponsored by the Women’s Jewelry Association. Weiner’s point was that in order to improve, we need to look at ourselves with totally new eyes, such as a child—or a space alien—might.
Taking a fresh look is a central theme for many consultants and business writers, such as authors Robert Kriegel and David Brandt in their book Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers. It’s also what Huw Daniel and his team at Platinum Guild International did in reevaluating PGI’s strategy (see p. 68).
But it’s not so easy to look at things with fresh eyes. As products of our environments, we look at things with prejudices based on experience, no matter how open-minded we think we are.
Here’s a test to see how we’re influenced by what’s always been done. What do the words “back to school” spark in your mind?
Typically, one thinks of September, days getting cooler and shorter, and readjusting to routine after a carefree summer. But what if you moved to Australia? Suddenly September means the days are getting longer and warmer, and you would not advance to the next grade for another four months. You’d go to school year-round with a few weeks of vacation between quarters rather than for nine months straight with three months off in the summer, and you’d change grades in January.
Have you ever looked at your business through the eyes of a child? A child looks at a situation and sees exactly what’s in front of him or her. Without history to color his thinking, a child simply sees what’s there—and often wonders why the adult doesn’t take the solution that seems obvious.
Are there things you do because that’s the way it’s always been done, rather than because that’s the best way to do it? For example, say you have a bookkeeper who takes a lot of time off to tend to family matters, and it’s affecting his deadlines to the point that you’re considering asking him to leave. But does he have to work during the day? Or at the store? With today’s technology, a bookkeeper could work from home, or in the evening.
When was the last time you compared your store hours to your traffic patterns? Unless your location requires communal hours, is there a compelling reason to open in the morning if you rarely get foot traffic until the afternoon? If you’re a custom goldsmith whose business comes mainly through referrals, what would happen if you went to a by-appointment-only arrangement?
Most of what you’re doing is probably working just fine. But don’t be afraid to question everything, because a few small changes might make a bigger difference than you imagine.